Hamilton is streaming on Disney+ and it confirms what most of us already knew: it is a masterpiece.
But we need to talk about John Adams in the play. His presence is largely glazed over. His first influence comes during Take a Break. When discussing whether Hamilton will join his family in upstate New York, his wife Eliza quips to her sister, "Angelica, tell this man John Adams spends the summer with his family," to which Hamilton replies, "Angelica, tell my wife John Adams doesn't have a real job anyway." He is then mocked by a crowd favorite King George in I Know Him and soundly smeared in The Adams Administration. "Adams fires Hamilton, privately calls him Creole bastard in his taunts. Hamilton publishes his response. 'Sit down, John, you fat mother...'" "Sit down, John" references earlier musical 1776's song by the same title.
John Adams was a badass. Few realize how easy it would have been for John Adams to have loyalist sympathies. He defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and his ability to acquit these men led to him being offered a position with the Royal Governor. He ultimately declined the position and became the primary driving force behind the independence resolution adopted at the second continental congress. The only of the founding fathers who became president who never owned slaves, Adams farmed his land himself.
John Adams was not charismatic. He did not enjoy playing politics. He was a poor president and politician. The Alien and Sedition Acts signed into law by President Adams were explicitly anti-constitutional at best and totalitarianism at worst. His position as the country's first Vice President was largely ceremonial and he was hurt by his deliberate exclusion from George Washington's cabinet meetings. As the first ambassador to Britain and the first ambassador to the Netherlands, Adams was anxious and ineffective.
But when it comes to men of character, virtue, morals, and ethics, it is impossible to find a founding father who exhibited those traits more prescient than Adams. There is no doubt that the colonies were on a crash course with independence but the urgency with which it became a reality can be attributed to Adams with a bit of help from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
For a play that turns aristocratic slave owner Thomas Jefferson, misunderstood Aaron Burr, and even the tyrant King George into sympathetic antagonists, John Adams deserved a better fate. As penance for enjoying Hamilton as much as we do, I'm suggesting we all watch the HBO miniseries John Adams or read the David McCullough's biography of the same name, upon which the miniseries was based.